Kerry County Council has said that a proposed greenway in the south of the county is needed to help address ongoing economic and population decline.

The council has also said that the near 32km South Kerry Greenway, stretching from Reenard, southwest of Cahirciveen to Faha, west of Glenbeigh, would not have a significant impact on the nearby environment.

However, the plan has been opposed by some, mainly farmers who are against the council's plan to impose a compulsory purchase order on up to 222 small pieces of land.

An Bord Pleanála has begun an oral hearing into the merits of the project and the hearing is expected to run into at least the middle of next week, with a decision likely to take until at least the end of the year.

The greenway would be a three-metre-wide paved stretch of "roadway" for use by cyclists and pedestrians and the council hope it would follow in the success of the Great Western Greenway in Mayo and the Waterford Greenway which have attracted large visitor numbers.

Projections for the South Kerry Greenway are that it would attract over 250,000 visitors every year, peaking in August with an average of up to 1,424 for each day of that month.

The council has been outlining its position on the Greenway at the outset of the hearing in Tralee.

Senior executive engineer, and project manager, Conor Culloo said in his submission that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report concludes that the Greenway, including any necessary works, "will not have a significant impact" on the local environment.

He also said that the CPO process is "necessary, sufficient and suitable" for the development.

"The primary goal of the South Kerry Greenway, aside from the amenity value to users, is one of rural development and regeneration," he said, citing economic and population decline in south Kerry as a driver.

Development work will include the construction of new car parks at Reenard trail head, Cahirciveen marina, Kells, and two at Glenbeigh trail head with toilet facilities at four of those locations.

The protected structures at Cahirciveen railway bridge and Gleensk viaduct would be repaired and new structures include an underpass of the N70 at Gortnagree and a new bridge at Kilkeehagh/Gleensk.

According to the council, the section of the greenway through the town of Cahirciveen will mean a widened carriageway on Quay Street and Marina Road, with traffic calming, to make it suitable for cyclists and pedestrians alongside motor traffic.

In its submission, the council says there is "a clear need for an intervention" in this part of south Kerry, "in order to address the ongoing economic and social decline" which has seen a fall in population of the area, including Cahirciveen, with an accompanying fall in local school numbers.

It describes the project as "a community-driven initiative to develop a vibrant, viable and sustainable rural community for existing and future generations" and "a sustainable tourism product capitalising on the beautiful scenery of the area" which will maximise tourism numbers by being accessible to all, including families and elderly people.

In relation to farmers, the council says the greenway has the potential to increase agri-tourism and food demand in the area. It will also include a payment scheme for landowner, through whose land the route will pass, involving an annual minimum payment of €300 as well as €2 per metre of route.

"The proposed project will provide a sustainable tourism product capitalising on the beautiful scenery of the area."